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Getting the Most Out of Your Gaming

I just finished reading two excellent posts by fellow RPG bloggers Chris Chinn and John Harper, and I’d like to tie them back into some of the things that I’ve been talking about here on TT, both recently and not-so-recently.

The common theme is making the most of your gaming time — which is one of this blog’s primary goals.

Let’s kick off with some links:

• John Harper (of The Mighty Atom [1]) posted Good Solid Gamism [2], in which he said:

“What do you do now?” is one of the most dangerous questions a GM can ask, when it comes to facilitating coherent play.

• Meanwhile, on Deep in the Game [3], Chris Chinn posted The Checklist [4] — a detailed guide to what he does and doesn’t want out of his gaming. From the “What I want from games” section, an excerpt:

2) Fulfillment throughout each session
3) Games that either have endgame mechanics or procedures to create endings for play.

• In the comments to John’s post, Chris mentioned his gaming motto, “Fun Now [5].”

Both of these posts provide clear and interesting guidelines for getting the most our your gaming — and I see some connections to things that I’ve posted about here, as well. John and Chris are much more adept at talking about gaming theory than I am, so it’s nice to see that I’m on the right track at least some of the time!

Chris’s motto is along the lines of Martin’s Maxims for GMs [6], although Chris puts things more succinctly. If he had posted this before I wrote Martin’s Maxims, I would have included “Fun Now” along with the Lumpley Principle and the other iconic concepts I mentioned at the beginning of that post.

“Fun Now” also ties into two posts here on TT that I’m coming to think of as “foundation posts,” because I mention them so often: Lead With the Cool Stuff [7] (which addresses why it’s bad to hoard your best ideas) and More Fun, Less Work [8] (which also has some common ground with Chris’s checklist).

Chris’s point about wanting endgame mechanics also resonates with me right now, because that’s exactly what one the GMs in my group has proposed.

Sam, who will be running Trinity for us (as one of the two alternating games I mentioned in The 4 Ways to Choose Your Next Game [9]), has said that he wants to run the game in a series of story arcs, each with its own defined ending. That way, if interest in the game flags, or something else comes up, we can stop playing at a satisfying endpoint — instead of just trailing off. I love this idea.

Do you see the connections between these posts and concepts as well, or do I just think about GMing too much? What do you think of Chris’s checklist (and what would be on your checklist?), or John’s take on “What do you do now?” and how it affects play?

9 Comments (Open | Close)

9 Comments To "Getting the Most Out of Your Gaming"

#1 Comment By Crazy Jerome On November 15, 2005 @ 1:34 pm

I definitely agree about the end game and the peril of “what do you do now?” I only recently (last couple of years) discovered those principles for myself, though I didn’t think about them explicity in those terms. (To solve observed issues, I was deliberately running story arcs with definite end points and focusing on choices that mattered, but I couldn’t have told you why in theory terms.)

Fun Now is something that took me awhile to accept, because the various ways it was presented often involved examples that would not have been fun for me or my group. I think the most glaring example that turned me around also involved the dangerous question issue. An actual conversation in a game last year:

Me as DM: “Where do you go now?”
PC: “Where the big fight is!”
Everyone else: “Yes!”

That was the whole flaw with that particular adventure. My next adventure was incredibly more fun, with the only design change to structure it with the idea that every choice took the characters to somewhere interesting, fast. (Or we rolled skill checks to determine how quickly the party found something interesting, which was both boring and dangerous for the characters trudging through the muck, but took all of 15 seconds to resolve.)

My own list is haphazard and ill-formed. I’m not even sure that I understand Forge terms well enough to communciate it, but my best shot:

1. Acceptable to all my current players, long-time friends, and who I want to game with. Note that some are borderline social gamers while others are a mixture of gamist, sim, and nar. Everything else follows from that tall order.

2. A healthy but not overwhelming dose of dominant gamism, but with strong minorities of “good enough” simulationism and narrativism. If that puts us starting into the maw of Zilchplay, then so be it.

3. Mechanics are elegant, coherent, yet capable of subtle interaction.

4. The ultimate power-gamed character is a generalist, indistinguishable from a well-formed character when you look at the character sheet. (In play might be another matter.) The corollary is that “specialization is its own reward.” The goal is not so much to reign in the power gamer (not a problem) as it is to make all character development choices decent choices–and thus remove the need to even think about the issue.

5. Game mechanics scale well. By this, I don’t mean the usual “power level” scale issues. Rather, it is easy to simplify or complicate given mechanics even during play. The goal is to control pacing, with a nice side benefit of simplifying prep work.

Those might seem overly specific, compared to the topic. However, I’m not really interested in playing a bunch of different games with different people.

#2 Comment By ScottM On November 15, 2005 @ 4:46 pm

I like Chris’s checklist; it reflects the time he took to take a time out and think. I like everything on both of his lists– for me, the hard list is what he doesn’t want. ‘Cause, sure, I don’t want it either… but I put up with some of it to game with my group. They’re excellent points to think about.

Similarly, while I’m willing to put up with a lot of delays, I think John’s right about unbounded “What do you do” questions. Lots of games I’ve played in have flopped because there’s no longer a fun answer to the question.

#3 Comment By Martin On November 16, 2005 @ 11:01 am

(CJ) Those might seem overly specific, compared to the topic. However, I’m not really interested in playing a bunch of different games with different people.

Any list like this will be personal and specific — I don’t think that’s a downside. I posted Chris’s list because I see a lot of things on there that I suspect have relevance many other gamers, as well. Your list looks good to me, CJ.

(Scott) I like everything on both of his lists– for me, the hard list is what he doesn’t want. ‘Cause, sure, I don’t want it either… but I put up with some of it to game with my group. They’re excellent points to think about.

I’m pretty sure most gamers put up with some things on their “don’t want” lists because those concerns are trumped by the desire to play with one’s friends.

That’s not a bad thing, and the list is still useful as a set of goals, even if you’re not on track to meet all of them.

#4 Comment By Chris On November 17, 2005 @ 1:36 am

Well, something interesting to note- though I’m playing with 2 different groups- I can’t call any of them particularly close friends, or even people I’ve known long. Most I’ve known for 6 months or less, so I have a lot of room for choosing what I’m willing to put up with and not. This puts me in a rather unique position compared to most gamers- I don’t have a lot of other social ties to tangle up my gaming desires in that regard.

#5 Comment By Crazy Jerome On November 17, 2005 @ 8:26 am

I have a wild guess (not a theory), that there are two somewhat conflicting goals of game design, based on different expectations of what the game itself should provide:

1. Wants the game to sing. Expectation is that a few, very dedicated people will control their environment, habits, even player selection. This is the only way to produce the “ultimate gaming experience.”

2. Wants the game to endure. Expectation is that all kinds of issues will crop up–that for whatever reasons must be endured. Young kids run around in the room; social gamers are present; the living room is more comfy, even if it lacks a decent gaming table. This is the only way–for lack of a better phrase–to make a “fun game that lasts.”

Of course, neither is as pure as I stated above. If the first is a sports car and the second an off-road SUV, neither group wants something that drops an engine before you can go one block, and both want enough pep to get around granny on the freeway.

#6 Comment By Martin On November 17, 2005 @ 6:30 pm

(Chris) This puts me in a rather unique position compared to most gamers- I don’t have a lot of other social ties to tangle up my gaming desires in that regard.

This sounds a lot more like convention gaming than “traditional” gaming — and I think in this case, it gives you a unique perspective.

I get the impression that you’re learning a lot about your tastes, gaming-wise, that you might not learn if you had to worry about treading on your friends’ toes.

CJ: Your “wild guess” sounds pretty good to me — I think you’re very much on the right track.

Not that I want you to disappear from here (far from it!), but you should really consider starting up a blog, or posting articles about gaming somewhere — because your recent comments have been exceptionally sharp. Seriously, you know your stuff.

Or do you already post content somwhere, and I just don’t know about it?

#7 Comment By Crazy Jerome On November 18, 2005 @ 11:06 am

I appreciate the compliment. No, I’m not posting content anywhere. While I have felt the itch a few times, I’m afraid of spreading myself too thin. The only thing worse than not posting content would be a blog with infrequent, poorly edited content–which is what I would produce right now if I tried it. 😀

I’m fast reaching the point with my homebrew design where I need to either forget about it or really push to finish it. If I make that push, part of it will be some kind of posting to support comments on it, as well as related stuff. If I am successful, I will have produced a “game that endures”–where the focus is completely on running a multi-session campaign.

The Forge guys are always talking about design flaws resulting from unconscious mixing of GNS elements (drift?). Or, the positive way of saying it, unabashedly go after whatever particular create agenda (or hybrid) you intend. I’m taking the same approach, only on a different axis. I’m willing to sacrifice the possibility of great one-shots, pickup games, etc. if that gives me something great for the long campaign.

There are some other pieces that are different than most game design–such as I’m consciously producing something that is technically not a game nor a game system, but something in between. But the long-term campaign part is the heart of the effort.

#8 Comment By Crazy Jerome On November 18, 2005 @ 11:48 am

It also occurs to me that Fun Now, Lead with the Good Stuff, and More Fun, Less Work are all true, but incomplete. At least they are in regards to my goal. There is also the Prospect of Fun Later.

I know what you are thinking. We might sacrifice Fun Now or saving Good Stuff for a later that may never come. We are seduced by the siren song of Fun Later. But that begs the question of what is doing the seducing. I submit that anticipation is its own kind of fun. So “Fun Later” is bad. The “Prospect of Fun Later” is inherently good, as long as it is not used an excuse for too much sacrifice of Fun Now.

Once put that way, the solution is obvious. If you only have one good, fun thing–use it now. If you have two good, fun things–pick one to use now, and one to introduce now, with prompt follow through. How you decide might be a tough decision. For example, if your best idea is even better with anticipation, while your almost as good, second best idea doesn’t benefit from anticipation, you might want to violate Lead with the Good Stuff slightly. Or rather, you are leading with a combination of good stuff–“X Now and Prospect of Y” trumps “Y Now and Prospect of X”.

#9 Comment By Martin On November 18, 2005 @ 4:20 pm

(CJ) I appreciate the compliment. No, I’m not posting content anywhere. While I have felt the itch a few times, I’m afraid of spreading myself too thin.

I know exactly what you mean. Working on TT has meant less time for forums and posting elsewhere, although the longer I write TT the better I get at streamlining the process.

It also occurs to me that Fun Now, Lead with the Good Stuff, and More Fun, Less Work are all true, but incomplete. At least they are in regards to my goal. There is also the Prospect of Fun Later.

Aboslutely — all three are useful concepts, but none of them provides the whole package.

In terms of Fun Now/Lead With the Cool Stuff vs. the Prospect of Fun Later, I’m in favor of leaning towards the former — because the latter might never happen. The PoFL is important, though, and definitely not something that should be ignored.